Report from Galapagos Exploratorium
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Dispatch #2 

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September 12, 2004

It’s a two-day trip to the Galapagos for nearly all the participants to this “usable science” workshop, and we’ve come from all over the world to converge in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city. Introductions and shop talk start immediately and I find a good mix of different backgrounds: social anthropology, meteorology, economics, agriculture science, public health, biology, philosophy, oceanography, climatology, hydrology, and environmental science. A shared journey seems a great way to start a meeting and perhaps that was the deliberate plan of the organizer, Michael Glantz (or as everyone calls him, “Mickey”). All the participants were handpicked by Mickey for their expertise, richness and diversity of ideas, and ability to think across disciplines.

After spending the night in Guayaquil, we board another flight to the Galapagos. From the air, this group of islands appears dark and bare of vegetation. On the ground on Baltra Island, we see our first iguana and some scattered prickly pear cacti (Opuntia echiosis). A short boat ride takes us to Santa Cruz Island, and a bus delivers us to our destination: Puerto Ayora. With about 10,000 residents, it’s one of the largest towns in the Galapagos.

We arrive to scout out the meeting location, the Charles Darwin Research Station just outside of town. The station was established in 1959, the same year that Ecuador placed the Galapagos archipelago under the protection of its national park system to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species. But we’re told by our liaison that there’s a problem: We can’t meet at the research station because Galapagos National Park employees were planning to strike the next morning and shut down the research station and park.


Of Fishermen, Sea Cucumbers and Politics
The park rangers were angry because the central government in Ecuador had just fired the park director and were sending in a replacement. I was told by Jose Luis Santos, an Ecuadorian professor and co-organizer of the meeting, that this would be the eighth director in the last year. The park employees were tired of having their boss replaced every month or two and were protesting the government’s appointment of yet another new one. I asked Jose why the high turnover and he said it was a political strategy to appease Ecuadorian fishermen, who wanted rules for collecting in the park loosened. What they are fighting over is the sea cucumber, a sausage-shaped invertebrate highly prized in the Japanese market. The fishermen want to collect year-round to keep their income flowing, but park officials worry about the ecological damage such harvesting would cause, and continue to enforce strict regulations. The government, pressured by the fishermen and not wanting to appear indifferent to their needs, reacts by firing the park director. But each successive park director supports regulations, so the cycle continues.

It’s one of those seemingly intractable struggles between human need and environmental peril, a subject we would return to often during the course of the workshop; that is, once we found a meeting place.


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